How about this for political discourse: “Our…opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage. They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”
Pretty savage, yes? It could have been said by any fascist dictator seeking to gain power, building up anger and suspicion and fueling hatred and fear of the “opponent”. You can’t imagine that kind of thing being said by a Canadian politician, can you? At least, we would all desperately hope so.
But this was actually spoken by the “most powerful man in the world”, the President of the United States, last June. Think about that. Those who supported him in 2016 may have believed that the office would make the man, as it has so many others in the past; but that hope has long ago been shattered. His record has so shocked the world that we are now in the unhappy position of being used to it. Any one thing Trump does in a single day would have had other Presidents out of office, and possibly jailed. But Trump carries on, malignly endangering the unity and safety of the citizens and constitution he swore to protect.
Trump would be bad enough if he was the only one of his kind; but there are others around the world. He himself referred to Boris Johnson as the United Kingdom’s Trump. He is not far off the mark there either. There are so many examples of people in leadership positions slowly breaking down all accepted standards of behaviour and public discourse. Lying is accepted, savagely attacking opponents, or even one-time allies, is accepted. There seems to be no bottom to what they are prepared to do.
The Atlantic, one of the more prestigious magazines in the U.S., founded in 1857 and staffed by many conservative writers, has now issued a special edition which they titled: “How to Stop a Civil War”. The publishers are so concerned about the future of their country, and what will happen after next year’s Presidential election, that they are calling for a public debate over impact Trump and his methods have had on American political, social and cultural society. The fear is, as stated by one contributor, conservative Canadian writer David Frum, that Trump, win or lose in the election, will not go away. He could claim that his defeat was fixed, that he was the victim of a coup. If he wins, and wins big (bigly?), he might even decide that he never has to leave office. This is not a joke, he has suggested this on many occasions. Civil war can take many forms, but it is the potential future of the U.S., regardless of election results.
Why is this relevant to the people of North Grenville and Merrickville-Wolford? In a nutshell, because there are politicians who see that Trump’s approach works. No matter what he does, says or Tweets, his support among the diehards doesn’t falter. More importantly, the Republican Party has sold its soul for power, refusing to confront Trump even though he has thrashed every one of their basic political principles. The evangelical so-called wing of the Christian Right has likewise turned its back on the Gospel for the sake of what they see as political reform. Ignore the character of the man you support, because he will legislate on your behalf. Despicable.
Johnson is expected to win his general election in a few days, even though people recognise that he, too, is a liar, irresponsible, and likely to lead his country to disaster. Even so, people, while openly acknowledging these facts, say they will vote for him anyway, because he means what he says and will give them Brexit, etc. The disconnect could not be more clear.
Others will try the same approach to win support: be outrageous, challenge the “establishment” (even if you are a pillar of that establishment), say the hateful and bigoted things that no-one else would dare say. People will receive you as a breath of fresh air, as someone who will, to coin a phrase, drain the swamp.
The idea that we can depend on people to behave rationally and logically in the face of such behaviour has been dealt a crippling blow by men like Trump and Johnson. Part of the reason for their success is the failure of traditional politics to halt the ever-growing divide between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of us, between the extremists and those who want a civil discussion of the issues that do affect us. We cannot simply say that it would never happen here. The U.S. and the U.K. were the great beacons of Democracy and equality, at least in theory. Leaders like Trump only arose in other places, like Russia, or North Korea. Think again. Beware the populist who promises to make everything great again, who promises a return to good old-fashioned ways and morals. History is full of those kind of leaders, and it never ends well.